Tuesday, October 18, 2016

American Foreign Policy and The Rest of the World

It's been a while since my last post (largely due to my activity in the political campaigns which's been eating up most of my time), but that post was primarily about the structure of international geopolitics, the rise of market-state empires, and how international deal-making takes place. I've also written about the liquidity flows across borders along with the financial implications of these shifts. This post will be about American foreign policy in this kind of a world.

We're currently in the middle of what's a Second Great Depression (with the United States being relatively insulated from the rest of the world). In Europe, half of it is in depression (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain, much of Eastern Europe) with the other half in the middle of a massive bubble (Scandinavia, Germany, and others). A couple of years ago, I wrote about how there're serious underlying problems in the European banking system which've just now begun to surface (Deustche Bank is just the beginning). This post is about how the current unfolding events impact foreign policy, both domestically and internationally.

Middle East:
In the Middle East, we've got what's effectively a real-life shitshow. You've got several key players: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Israel who're the real powers of the region. Everywhere outside of their domain is basically a conflict amongst themselves. In Yemen, there's a complex proxy war between different power players that crosses across many factions. We see a similar phenomenon in Iraq with different kinds of rebels, Turks, Kurds, ISIS, and Assad loyalists grappling for power.

The one exception to this rule is in Syria, which is run by Assad and basically a puppet of the Kremlin. However, Syria's also involved in this chaos. We've seen a total breakdown of civil order across most of the region. When we see a collapse of civil order, we end up with warlords, which is what we've got. As I've written previously, ISIS is a warlord state. After the collapse of the Syrian nation-state which's mostly run by random warlords, Assad has now become another warlord.

In such a climate, it seems like the US has taken a balance of power approach that I suggested several years ago wherein the Americans fund all sides. As a side starts to become more and more powerful, the strategy is to divert support to others to maintain the balance of power. The balance-of-power strategy came out of the Iraq invasion which was simply deemed too costly to the American people.

Going forward, the most sensible strategy is a balance-of-power as it allows for flexibility to adapt in any scenario. I suspect this's what we continue to see for the next few decades. Any sort of invasion is simply too costly for American taxpayers to withstand while a total and complete pullout of the region risks giving foreign powers like Russia far more say in what happens over there.

Africa:
Currently, most of Africa's in total and utter chaos. As I've discussed, most of the countries in Africa get their revenue from the exports of raw materials and commodities. I've also written about how such systems can (and have) created political and economic instability whilst making capital formation effectively impossible. Such systems've distorted African governments to the point where there's basically little hope. Also note that Africa's having a population surge while it's landscape is basically getting raped.

Due to the nature of what's going on in Africa, there's a real chance we see very large population corrections there. What does this mean? It means people who'll be forced to move (and die). There'll also be a landgrab for its resources from foreign powers--as I've also discussed before--where various empires effectively bring the area into their control.

Other than what I listed above, there's really not a whole lot of ways Africa's a factor in terms of foreign policy.

China and Southeast Asia:
I first wrote about China's economic and geopolitical problems a couple of years ago. China's currently in the midst of an economic transition where growth rates've fallen (which was one of the scenarios I listed); however, they haven't fallen as quickly as I thought they would've. With all that being said, Chinese growth rates continue to fall slowly although they're still rather high. The more China grows now, the less it'll grow later on. If you wonder why this must necessarily be the case, I reference you to my post about the structure of the Chinese financial system in relation to its economic growth model. The growth is simply not sustainable, it's founded on an unprecedented credit boom, and it looks more and more like Japan in the late 1980's as every day passes by.

Due to the structure of the Chinese financial system and its economic growth model, China's been forced to build an empire in order to satisfy its ridiculous demand for natural resources. This demand has been falling (as I said it would) for the past few years which's left commodity prices in the dumps (as I also said was likely). As growth rates fall and China's insatiable demand for natural resources becomes more satiable, the need for China to be externally focused will decline. Eventually, China's demand for commodities will fall, but it'll still exist. So what does that imply? It implies that China will still need to secure its trade routes, but it also implies China'll be more internally focused during its economic rebalancing.

The key issue of Chinese empire isn't so much the areas being effectively colonized (like Africa), but about the other linkages the Chinese economy has developed--mainly in Southeast Asia. China has currently been expanding its influence in Southeast Asia by building its islands, arming its fishing boats, using economic power to control countries in Southeast Asia, and via other means. In order to counterbalance this impact, the US will be increasing its presence in Southeast Asia whether or not the TPP gets through.

In other words, we'll be witnessing a strengthening of ties between the US and most Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and others. We're already seeing the beginnings of this. As China's economic transition continues, they'll be relatively contained for the most part.

Russia and Second Cold War:
As of right now, the US is basically in a Second Cold War with Russia. The Russians've hacked into various political parties or certain candidate's (Hillary Clinton) campaign's personal files (like emails) and have published them on Wikileaks after slightly doctoring them in an effort to wage a disinformation campaign. These are the same kinds of tactics that were used by the Russians in the early Cold War era. There's also been several people from within our intelligence community who've leaked files and then took asylum in Russia (like Edward Snowden) who're likely traitors. Again, these are Cold War tactics.

In regions like Eastern Europe or in the Middle East (mainly Syria), we're seeing the Russian government build ties into insurgencies or with puppet regimes/dictators like in Ukraine. Of course, I wrote about this a couple of years ago as well. The US is taking up a containment policy (as I've discussed before) involving a series of Eastern European countries and Turkey, although Turkey's case is a bit different as they've gotten slightly more friendly to Russia as of late.

The Cold War went on for 45 years after World War II until it culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall. This time around, Russia's much weaker and already in dire and desperate financial straits. Russia's current economy is almost entirely dependent on natural resources and commodity exports. Due to the current situation regarding commodity prices and the price of natural resources, Russia can't continue to sustain its empire.

So instead of a 40-45 year Cold War, we'll be looking at one that doesn't last longer than 20-25 years (probably much less than that). There's many scenarios and it's difficult to say exactly what happens, but the fragmentation of Russia is a real political risk. Either way, one thing is clear. Russia's reliance on natural resources and commodity exports is its primary weakness. This reliance limits the power Russia can wield and the scale of its empire.

Russia looks like it's in terminal decline and nearing its end. The Second Cold War could be Russia's last stand in its current form. A possible scenario for Russia is that it'll recede to the Muscovy territory, which was the domain of the Russian Empire in ~1600.

Liberal Democracies in Asia:
When I say the liberal democracies in Asia, I'm speaking about India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, and other countries in Asia that're not located out of Central Asia. These countries have a history of friendly relations with the United States and I don't see that changing. Many of these countries (ex. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc) are developing countries with vibrant industries that're looking for foreign investment to build infrastructure or to invest in companies or communities or whatever else. The interesting part is that the US's the most capital-rich country in the world while currently running current account deficits; hence importing capital even though capital scarcity is no problem at all--which I've written as being one of the biggest problems the US and the world face due to the implied distortions in global financial markets.

So what we're likely to see are increased financial ties from countries like the US (and probably Japan) into the liberal democratic countries of South and Southeast Asia. As I've stated, China's getting more aggressive in South and East China Seas which's forcing a larger US imperial footprint in the region too. That larger imperial footprint is likely to coincide with a furthering of investments and financial/economic ties between these countries (after all, this's the purpose of TPP).

I've also written about how basically every "civil war" in Asia east of the Middle East is a proxy war between India and China. In this proxy war, the US will take the side of India and probably try to create an alliance of South and Southeast Asian countries (not allied with China like Pakistan or Sri Lanka) alongside of Japan and perhaps even South Korea.

I suspect we're likely to see a further expansion of missile defense systems and weapons deals with all of the liberal democratic countries in Asia, largely to ward off Chinese aggression. To gauge the impacts of this long-term are difficult cuz it'll depend on how the Chinese economic rebalancing takes place. Thus far, I'm assuming it'll be relatively neat. However, there's a chance such a rebalancing'll be rather messy which means China could be on the verge of fragmentation.

Conclusion:
Overall, American foreign policy will likely be more restrained over the next decade than it's been in almost a full century. There's a population that seems weary of war, but there's also an empire that needs to be managed. The primary tools of engagement'll likely be financial measures used in most of the world. There'll still be weapons deals or alliances in strange ways, but there won't be much more than that.

I also expect the large US trade deficit to fall over the next decade or so, especially considering that 70% of the American trade deficit is from China alone and both Presidential candidates're now running on a platform of going after China's disregard for international trade agreements along with its repeated violations. I suspect the same could happen to Japan. Considering that 90% of the American current account deficit is with China and Japan, the current account deficit'll basically be eliminated. That'll mean we'll be seeing more net capital exports from the United States.

It's also important to note that ~70% American energy is sourced from North America and almost all of it's sourced from the Americas (the US produces half with rest coming primarily from Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and a handful of other places). The US no longer needs Middle Eastern oil nor does it need to import much energy, so there's less of a need to engage in a foreign policy to secure those resources.

With all that being said, the US will remain as the global leader, but it'll also be taking an international role that's effectively quasi-isolationist with a focus on financial ties with ideological allies or countries with liberal capitalist democratic systems of political economy.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Shifting Geopolitical Structures, Market-State Empires, and the International Deal-Making

This post will be regarding the international structure of the world and how it's shifted from the old world of nation-states. In order to do so, I'll split this post up into several sections:
1. Introduction
2. Geopolitical Structures Today
3. Market-States, Clashing Empires, Diplomacy, and International Deal-Making
4. Conclusion

1. Introduction:
The world isn't just becoming rapidly imperial, but the entire power structure is something drastically different than anything we've seen in the past 300-400 years. Before the 20th century, the world was essentially ruled by European powers that held international empires. In the 20th century, these European states went to war and that war rapidly escalated into two World Wars because these European powers had international empires. So when the nation-states went to war, their empires simultaneously went to war. So a European war immediately and necessarily translated into a World War, which eventually saw a collapse of their empire and ended up in a world of nation-states.

In the 20th century and the previous 300 years, the most powerful world powers were all European. Today, the most powerful countries internationally are the US, China, India, Russia, and Japan. Note how only one of those countries is a European power (Russia). 3/5 are purely Asian and 4/5 have a coastline on the Pacific Rim. Late in the 20th century, the total amount of trade in the Pacific surpassed the trade in the Atlantic and this process has accelerated in the 21st century. So for the first time in world history, the most powerful trade network is the Pacific Rim trade network.

2. Geopolitical Structures Today:
So today, we live in a world dominated by Asian powers that're not only growing in population, but are also growing in power, productivity, and economic clout. Within a couple of decades maximum, we will see an Indian Navy that's more powerful than the Royal Navy. So the world we live in is rapidly transitioning from a line of thinking and philosophy centered out of Europe to one centered out of Asia. We're entering a world wherein the primary base of thinking and philosophy will be that of Asia.

It also becomes important to note that Europe is currently in terminal decline. Almost all European countries have experienced a total fertility rate well below sustainable for the past ~40-50 years. In other words, their populations are falling rapidly AND these countries already have very high levels of development. So the next logical step is sustained pressure on pension systems and social welfare programs. So these societies have declining populations, a declining workforce, and a larger pool of people who're now dependents. They're also now having difficulty assimilating immigrants and immigration is creating internal tensions within their societies. Europe's also got major financial issues that're leading to social and political imbalances. To put simply, there's really not much hope left in these places. They're gonna be headed on a downward trajectory for a long while.

So the power structures, ideologies, and ruling philosophies of the world are becoming more Asian. Also note that the battles between Asian powers are now taking center stage in terms of worldwide geopolitics. For example, virtually all of the "civil wars" or internal strife in most of Asia are really just a part of proxy wars between China and India. To put more simply, their empires are in conflict.

3. Market-States, Clashing Empires, Diplomacy, and International Deal-Making:
In Africa, there's a battle for much of Africa's mineral resources. Note that many of these mineral resources are key items with low substitutability in our smartphones, computers, and many other technologies. Also note that these minerals are very expensive to extract and refine, which is why they're pushed overseas. Due to the need for the extraction of these minerals, we have "civil wars" in many parts of Africa like Nigeria or Congo or many other places that're really just wars between two militias fighting for control of supply-lines and control of natural resources with each militia backed by some larger country as a part of its empire. In other words, many of these wars in Africa are just proxy wars primarily between the US and China as these are the two most predominant world powers with raw material needs. If a given party doesn't use these raw materials or mineral resources, these resources get immediately contracted out to the another international player that wants access to them.

In other words, we're entering a world with a few key large powers. Everything that occurs internationally in a geopolitical sense is merely just a clashing of more formidable powers. When these powers have conflicting interests, they sit down at a table and basically throw around various natural resources or contracts or certain ties with certain states as chips on the board to trade with other sides. To put simply, this current shift in international relations is like the days of old imperial powers before the turn of the 20th century. In order to reach some kind of an agreement, one side trades certain pieces of their empires in order to get concessions on the other.

This world is very different from the days of total war between individual nation-states. Instead, we have a recent case of Russia and the US negotiating. In this case, Syria is a government run by Assad who's effectively a Russian puppet. Many of the Syrian rebels, on the other hand, are funded and organized by the Americans. So we end up with a situation where you've got the American Empire and the Russian Empire are smashing into one another. So what happened recently to resolve various disputes in the region? John Kerry showed up with the American diplomatic team with a big binder and was working on a peace deal with the Russians by offering concessions to get concessions.

If the Chinese hold a card with various ties to some strongman in a country like the Congo or Nigeria that's got critical natural resources like, say, lithium that's not being used while some American company needs to access that lithium; then you could have a situation where the corporation makes a deal with various Chinese elites that provides them access to a resources like lithium with some kind of a financial contract.

4. Conclusion:
So we're basically entering a world of market-state empires wherein the empire itself occurs from many different ties ranging from weapons agreements to corporate agreements for natural resources to the ownership of companies in different countries more generally. What determines the clout and power of the empire in question is its economic, financial, and military power of not just itself, but all of the layers of ownership and the structure of the supply chains ingrained into its economic, financial, and military power. The conflicts we see in today's world are merely just a clashing of these empires in various regions across differing scales. In order to come to agreements, there's various parts of each empire that're traded for concessions with parts of another empire.

It's quite interesting to note that the structure of international relations probably more ancient than it is modern as you've got hierarchies across the world coming to agreements by trading various chips on the table as per their abilities and needs. What we have is closer to a return to the imperial world of old rather than the old nation-state world that we've come to know for so long.

As crazy as it seems, the rise of technology has made the world more imperial whilst destroying the old order of nation-states. The rise of market-state empires is simply the next step in the process.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Extractive Industries, Economic Rent, and Henry George's Idea of Taxes on Rents

My most recent posts have been quite political. However, this post will primarily be about economics. In various posts, I've discussed the basics of capital and wealth creation. In those same posts, I touched on rent-seeking and how it's essential to avoid such behavior. This post will largely be a spin-off of htose posts. In order to continue, we must first recall the definition of economic rent: an economic benefit received by adding nothing (usually reducing)--on the net--to productivity.

As I've discussed previously, acts like environmental degradation are effectively a form of rent-seeking. In the case of extractive industries, the firms receiving rents from extractive industries are rent-seekers. Why? When you dig out coal from the ground, it destroys the landscape, the air, and often the water. It's the same thing with fossil fuels more generally. These firms get revenues for something that destroys the landscape, the air, etc..

Usually, the most common form of economic rent would be land rents. So in the mid-19th century, there was a great American economist by the name of Henry George who proposed a Land Value Tax as a way to deal with land rents. In today's world, rents from extractive industries are a much larger problem for reasons ranging from environmental degradation like deforestation to climate change. Obviously, the LVT does nothing to deal with rents from extractive industries.

Hence, I'm now proposing a tax on all extractive industries. Regardless of where an extracted material comes from, there will be a flat tax imposed on the extracted material when used as an input in production. For example, as soon as crude is sucked out of the ground and sold, there will be a flat tax imposed on that price wherein the revenues go towards the federal government.

Although there's a tax on extractive industries, there is no added tax for items refined on those products. For example, there will be no tax on gasoline because gasoline isn't extracted. Gasoline is refined from an extracted material. There also won't be a tax on solar panels, but there will be a tax on the silicon used in the production of solar panels in the supply-chain. So this tax will affect value added industries little, especially if there's a lot of parts in the supply-chain. On the other hand, it's impact on industries who have little value-added in their supply-chain will be much larger (relatively speaking, of course).

I've seen various people think of a value-added tax (VAT) when I say a tax on extractive industries, but this is nothing like the VAT. A VAT is a tax on the value-added section of goods. The Extractive Industries Tax (EIT) that I'm proposing is nothing like that. It's only a tax on the initial purchase of a raw material from a company that does resource extraction. We are not taxing anything across the supply-chain. It is purely a tax on extractive industries to add in the negative externalities of extractive rents that aren't in the market price.

Of course, fossil fuel extraction today isn't just not taxed or encouraged, but the behavior is actively subsidized. In the US, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that fossil fuel subsidies total close to ~$550 billion annually. So we currently have incentives that not don't account for negative externalities from extractive rents, but actively incentivize firms to increase profits from extractive rents. In the line of Henry George, we must first actively eliminate all subsidies that go towards all extractive industries and then place a flat tax on extraction (as described above) that'd bring in ~$500 billion in the first year. I'm proposing a tax that's ~50% on all directly extracted mineral resources both within the borders of the US and for any item that uses extracted minerals built into global supply-chains that wasn't extracted domestically as an addition to the current cost. This would be applied by simply calculating the total valuation of all of the extracted minerals on global markets at the time of importation into the US and then tacking on the tax value to that total valuation.

This tax would clearly incentivize renewable energy by relatively increasing energy costs from extracted sources. Such a tax would also incentivize the use of less raw materials in the domestic economy more generally. It'd reduce the total inputs into our economic system while incentivizing the ability to produce more outputs with less inputs. In other words, this kind of a tax would incentivize genuine capital formation instead of increased income from extractive rents.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A New Chapter in an Old Game: The Imperial Globalists vs The National Populists

As anyone who has seen my blog as of late can clearly tell, I've got quite the affinity for politics. Considering that it's an election year in the United States and the US is the center of the world's financial and geopolitical system, the entire world looks to the United States yet again. In the formation of this post, I've split it up into 5 sections:
1. Introduction
2. Historical Rotation of Issues on Domestic Policy
3. Political Axis Along International Policy
4. Demographics and Cultural Issues
5. Conclusion

1. Introduction:
In the middle of a global financial crisis of the like we haven't seen in ~80-90 years, the 2016 American election determines the pivot yet again. Yet again, the entire world is at stake.

As I've written before, the American Republic was essentially set up by the capital interests, primarily finance capital, as a way to fulfill basic geopolitical constraints. I also have spoken about how the right to vote alongside free elections came about as a way to diffuse populist pressure against an entrenched oligarchy. Throughout American history, we've seen this battle between the oligarchy and the populist backlash repeatedly. To put simply, this is a very old game.

In the 2016 Presidential election, we're seeing the same sort of battle occur yet again. On one side, you've got a populist (Donald Trump) who's trying to run as more of a Jacksonian while we head towards November. On the other side, you've got a puppet of a corrupt oligarchy propped up by liberal elites and established financial interests (Hillary Clinton).

2. Historical Rotation of Issues on Domestic Policy:
Historically, it's often been the ones in favor of protection that were usually favored by the oligarchy, but that was also in a time when the US was still a developing country. In order to develop firms and industries built on capital inputs, it became necessary to protect such domestic industries from more developed countries where capital inputs were cheaper. So, not surprisingly, the capital interests and development interests would lobby for their interests in the political system.

However, the US is today the most developed, the most capital-rich, the most technologically advanced, and the most innovative economy across the entire globe. So the idea of needing to protect American industry as a way to promote capital inputs in firms from more capital-rich countries is absurd because there don't exist countries more capital-rich, more technologically advanced, and more innovative countries in the rest of the world. On the other hand, the liberalization of trade and capital flows allows capital interests in the US to secure their supply-chains at a much cheaper cost than restrictions on trade or capital flows. Such liberalization also helps firms arbitrage price/wage differentials between countries, which allows for the financial system to get piles and piles of profits in seemingly hidden ways.

Of course, there are costs to the liberalization of trade and capital flows whose impacts are borne very locally by a very specific group of people. In the US, the group most adversely affected by trade/capital liberalization has been the white working class along with the old industrial regions more generally. On top of firms going overseas for cheaper labor or for arbitraging price differentials or for whatever reason, there's also been massive amounts of immigration into the US over the past 20-25 years or so (including both skilled and unskilled labor). Such labor has depressed the wages of the native-born population while also bringing in people from other parts of the world who are of a higher class than them. So they see the classes above them growing in size while they also see more entrants competing with them directly. Naturally, when times get difficult, there will be some kind of a backlash.

What I'm essentially saying is that three key issues (trade, immigration, and banking) have become the key difference between both sides of the political axis. One side (National Populists) seeks to increase protection, decrease immigration, and go after the entrenched financial interests. The other side (Imperial Globalists) seeks to maintain relatively liberal policies regarding trade/capital flows, immigration, and use entrenched financial interests as a part of their base.

3. Political Axis on International Policy:
Now that we've discussed how the two sides have aligned across threats of domestic policy, we'll point out how this translates to international/foreign policy. The National Populists favor what effectively amounts to retrenchment to focus on domestic concerns in order to help out those people who've been left behind in the past 40-50 years. The Imperial Globalists favor aggressively going after our interests abroad while using every bit of leverage in our financial system as a tool to do so. The National Populists are concerned about the impacts of those policies on domestic workers, especially nativist/unskilled labor more generally, the impact of those policies on the American trade deficit, on immigration policies that may dilute their political support, and the financial system is viewed as the primary stallward of the "Globalists".

So essentially, you've got a populist base on one side that's saying we need to retrench geopolitically in order to look after domestic goals--which is why I call them the National Populists. On the other side, you've got a base built on a coalition of minority groups, younger people, and urban/suburban moderates who favor imperial policies (of some kind or another) to look out for global American interests. So the latter side is what I call the "Imperial Globalists".

Unsurprisingly, the narrative used by the GOP base is that they must "Defeat the Globalists". On the other side, the narrative being spun is to defeat the demagogue being supported by nativist populists. The former favors retrenchment, the abandonment of imperial goals, and domestic development. The Imperial Globalists favor a furthering of imperial goals, maintenance of empire (if not outright expansion), and a policy of reducing possible costs of imperial policy (like a trade deficit) by very indirect and modest means which'd fix the more obvious parts of the problem without dealing with the primary concerns of the National Populist base.

4. Demographics and Cultural Issues:
Not surprisingly, the split between Hillary supporters and Trump supporters are largely split along demographic lines. Those groups hardest hit by globalization are--as I've detailed above--the white working class and largely native men in the American population. When we add in cultural issues like political correctness or affirmative action, these issues are perceived to be issues primarily affecting men--especially white males (note that most of my white friends actually benefited from affirmative action while people like me who went to difficult schools in relatively upscale suburbs were screwed). So unsurprisingly, Trump's primary base is among whites without a college degree, men without a college degree, and disgruntled white men who're upset at the corruption in DC and feel disenfranchied.

It's important to note that many aren't just upset from increasing immigration that's depressing wages, but also they're also upset at risk of losing jobs from automation as well. Also notice that more immigrants who end up becoming citizens implies that the native population of voters will have their power in government diluted. So naturally, those whose political interests are on the opposite side of most of the immigrants will vote on the opposite side. Again, this shouldn't be a surprise.

It's also interesting to note that on most of the polls we've seen so far, Trump seems to be largely outperforming (or at least not underperforming) Romney among Hispanics. Now, this could be a polling error that simply underscores the Hispanic community--which means that these polling numbers are skewed towards Trump. If it's not a polling error, what these polls mean is that the Hispanics who're being negatively affected by immigration or trade or foreign wars or by cultural issues or whatever.

The interesting thing to notice is that Trump is behind Hillary in the polls more generally although he's outperforming Romney among Hispanics and other minorities (in some cases, even blacks) because he's underperforming Romney among moderate women and college-educated whites. So the demographic split isn't just among white vs non-white because the polling tells us that the demographic splits are far more complex. Of course, it does seem like the white vs non-white split is the most significant but that doesn't mean there's more complexity underneath it.

5. Conclusion:
Simply put, the 2016 Presidential election is no longer about left vs right as we've known it. Instead, it's about an imperial policy of projecting American strength and using the financial system to do so in order to serve trade network expansion across both region and across scale (this is the point of  TPP) on one side, The response from the other side has been a call to ultra-nationalism and retrenchment focused on development.

The 2016 election is about a debate between using the financial system as a tool for imperial domination and domestic connectedness during a stage of political decentralization more generally on the part of the Imperial Globalists. On the side of the National Populists, it's about reducing the concentration of financial power among the elites as a tool to "take our country back" (this is the phrase used by the Trumpkins) and return to "power to the people", even though it's ironic that most of the people dislike Trump.

The 2016 election is about the cultural divides in the United States that create rifts within the US internally. It involves a battle between the cities and the countryside. It also involves racial and religious elements that turn the entire election into a battle of social issues. These social issues are merely just information being transmitted among the greater internal societal issues of the US more generally.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On the Effectiveness of Polls and the Artistry Behind Using Polls Well

In my past few blog posts (excluding the last one), I've primarily discussed the political race in the US primaries. Recently, we also had a referendum in the UK about leaving the EU (so-called Brexit) in which the UK chose to leave in a ~52%-48% lead. In this post, the results of Brexit or the US primaries are rather irrelevant, except in the more general aspects of prediction.

Misuse of Brexit Polls:
First off, there's been a lot of talk about how disastrous polling was in the UK from Brexit and there's also been discussion about polling failures more generally. So I'll begin by talking about the poll results coming into Brexit. Some are using arguments that say polling was completely useless because there were polls showing Remain over Leave by a large margin the day before the polls. Of course, when we use polls we've gotta remember that any given poll comes with a margin of error, can be poorly done by a polling firm, the poll can be an outlier, and a whole host of other factors. In other words, there's a real problem taking one particular day or one particular poll too seriously.

In other words, properly using polling means that the most important factor to take into account are polling averages across a wide array of polls from different methodologies. If the polls are relatively accurate and in line with one another, then that tells us the polls have a better chance of being accurate. If the polls are all over the place (like it was with many Brexit polls), then you can basically toss them out for the most part.

In the specific case of Brexit, not only were many of the polls all over the place but the Huffington Post polling average basically had Leave and Remain neck and neck for weeks with a very small margin. In other words, a proper diagnosis of the polls--assuming they were representative of the population--should've told us that the chance of a Leave vs a Remain is basically close to 50/50. Sure enough, that's what we got. We also know that there were certain demographic components like the young favoring Remain by a large margin while older voters were favoring Leave alongside more educated voters favoring Remain while those less-educated favoring Leave. So what does that tell us? Well, we know that older voters have higher turnout and younger voters have lower turnout. So that fact alone would tell us that it may actually make sense to favor Leave because older voters will likely have higher turnout. However, the educational factor tells us the same thing about favoring Remain. In essence, we should've expected a very close vote.

So anyone saying that this Leave vote was ridiculous or absurd or totally unpredictable where the polls were completely wrong is really just not sound thinking. Quite frankly, that's just about as terrible as a use of polling as anyone could have. So why did the betting markets have Remain at such high odds? I don't know, but if I had been given those kinds of odds before the election, I'd have taken them (I bought a straddle on a UK equity ETF expecting much higher volatility off things like this, on which I was correct). 

US Polling More Reliable Than Foreign Countries:
Now, I'll discuss why American polling and American pollsters are simply more effective and better at accurate polling than other places. Much of this has to do with the American political structure which is a decentralized federal structure. We have 50 states that hold Senate and House elections every two years and Presidential elections every 4 years. We also have state polling, local polling, federal polling, and polling for both party primary elections and the general elections. Parliamentary systems, on the other hand, only have one election every few years with a referendum that's even more rare.

In other words, the US political system allows for pollsters to do much more tinkering to adjust polls and find ways to limit error. If we take the UK as a simple example, they haven't had a referendum like this in a long time. They also had an election in 2015 with the previous elections in 2010, 2005, and 2000. In other words, they've got one election every 5 years where pollsters have to figure out--as a country--how they're gonna account for these shifts. In order to correct their polls, if you were to go back 4 elections that'd compromise an entire generation AND you only have 3-4 pieces of actual data on which to compare the polls with. Compared with the errors created by a new generation of voters, those kinds of adjustments done by data 5, 10, 15, and 20 years ago are essentially useless because of shifts in demographics.

However, in the US, we've got 50 different states each with their own polling, their own demographics, and they hold 2-3 sets of elections every 2 years. We also have a much larger and more diverse country which means we can use demographic factors like age, race, gender, income, etc much more effectively to weight our polls in order to reduce our errors. One major advantage in terms of a general election for President of the United States is that we know where most states are gonna line up going into the November of a Presidential year. Since we have an electoral college format in our elections, we can go into almost all elections knowing what most of the results are gonna be. If the exit polling, regional, and demographic data match up with the polls, we can call our elections almost immediately. In parliamentary democracies where there's just not the level of size or diversity and they hold elections between centralized parties, they simply do not have those advantages.

The US also has the advantage of having a "two-party system". So when we have a general election, there's usually only two candidates (and occasionally 3 candidates) that have a realistic shot of winning. So we don't have to worry about 4 or 5 or 6 parties each with a projected amount that have a different margin of error and how that margin of error affects everyone else's vote. When you have such a kind of situation in a parliamentary democracy, a 3% error rate for each party could easily translate into a 1 standard deviation chance of a 6-10% vote swing in one direction which completely changes the composition of the parliament and the composition of the future ruling coalition. Another issue regarding parliamentary systems is that the political parties are centralized with no primary contests and the ruling coalition can often call elections at any time it so chooses. So therein represents another problem for parliamentary democracies.

Good Polling and a Correct Use of Polling is an Art and not a Science:
In essence, conducting and using polls is not a science. Effectively using polling isn't about fancy number crunching or being crazy or anything like that. Accurately and effectively using polling is about the communication of the results and the implications of the methods of communication. What do I mean? I mean that anyone with half a brain can look at numbers to compare which one is large. It takes much more than just being able to compare numbers to interpret polling well.

Interpreting polling properly means how much knowledge can we get out of the information on a poll. For example, it's important to be able to spot outliers because any one poll can contain a sample not representative of the population as a whole. So obviously, being able to spot outliers is a necessity considering that all polls have a given confidence interval. If you don't spot outliers, your conclusions will be wrong. I don't know how they'll be wrong, but they will be wrong.

Another aspect of polling is understanding and dealing with bias, which means being able to spot possible biases in various kinds of polling. For example, if the approval rating for the President is ~52% nationally while a poll has his approval rating at ~45%, we can probably say that the poll is biased based along partisan lines. Similarly, we can say that if a poll as 40% of each party as registration in its sample while you actually see 40% in one party and 35% in another, then we can probably say that the poll is biased.

Other ways we can check the bias of polls are along demographic lines. For example, political alliances in such a diverse country like the US will always be driven across demographic lines. If a set percent of some demographic has voted a certain way (like minority populations for Democrats) and they're underrepresented in a certain sample, then we can say the poll may be biased. Similarly, we can use basic demographic percentages and back of the hand calculations to check and see if the polls align.

So when we do look at polls, it's important to note all of the sub-categorizations. Another important factor when examining polls is how they deal with turnout factors. Some polls use registered voters while others use likely voters and some have both. Many who lean a certain way that don't show up to vote aren't, by definition, representative of the voting population as a whole. So it may be important to adjust polling estimates for turnout.

In other words, all of the listed aspects of every poll which include voter alignment, demographics, turnout, etc are essential in using polls properly. As I've said, there's no correct or incorrect way of assessing whether polls are biased or on spotting outliers. As long as it'll work, it'll do just fine, but we must be careful in that process to make sure we're thinking and analyzing rigorously.

So how do we think and analyze the data in front of us rigorously? The first key is to remain skeptical at all times and always try to find out when you're wrong. It becomes crucial to understand all of your assumptions and systemically make sure every logical step we take is valid and that the implicit assumptions behind each logical step holds. Another key is to understand how to deal with error effectively, which means error propagation across the entire system. The most important thing to understand is error dynamics and how the error shifts as your assumptions shift. These are the most important guidelines to using polls effectively.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

On Climate Change, Climate "Science", Forecasting Issues and Geopolitical Impacts

I suspect that in the 2016 Presidential Election, the topic of climate change will be an important issue between the two major Presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Of course, Hillary Clinton views climate change as the most important issue we face today while Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese government (I don't think he actually thinks it's a conspiracy, but I'm sure he does think it's a hoax).

So in this post, I'll discuss the issue of climate change, how it's changing things, how it could continue to change things, the possible errors in forecasting and modeling, and climate change vs global warming. Hence, this post will be split into 4 topics:
1. The Flaws of "Global Warming"
2. Forecasting Issues and Mathematical Modeling of the Impacts of Climate Change
3. Climate Change is More Sound than Global Warming
4. Security Risks and Geopolitical Impacts of Climate Change

1. The Flaws of "Global Warming":
First, I'll discuss the issue of "global warming" vs climate change and the specific differences, the scientific flaws in their arguments, and the risks we face today.

In the idea of "global warming", the basic concept is just to use the well-known greenhouse effect for CO2 emissions as a way to determine and predict future temperatures. My personal view of this theory is that it's bogus because it generally assumes away the complex factors that are the environment and the second and third order effects involved here.

Another problem with the idea of "global warming" is that it's inherently not falsifiable and not repeatable in controlled environments, which means that such ideas are automatically not science by definition (science is a procedure involving the testing of hypotheses by experiments in fixed conditions). So the entire idea of "global warming" is kind of a joke.

A third problem is how we measure mean temperatures across the globe. Do we do it by area or by latitude and count every latitude as the same and how do we weight the temperatures across the globe. Unfortunately, you rarely see the methodology of calculation discussed or critiqued in most discussions which is a real problem.

2. Forecasting Issues and Mathematical Modeling of the Impacts of Climate Change:
Many of those who do support the idea of "global warming" often claim that they have forecasting models which can predict the future. Of course, even a half-decent look at these models would lead someone to realize that these "forecasting models" are really mathematical models built on certain assumptions that are trying to predict a very complex system we do not understand. These mathematical models are what're called "chaotic" in mathematics and have an entire field of mathematics devoted to their study--the field is called chaos theory. So what does "chaos" mean in mathematics? Chaos means that there's a deterministic model that's highly sensitive to small shifts. In other words, a minor shift in either the initial conditions or the inputs for the parameters could lead to a completely different outcome. This is better known as the "butterfly effect" where a butterfly's movement in Texas creates a tornado in Missouri. In other words, these models are highly sensitive to any kind of shift.

If these models are sensitive to very small shifts, the implications of such models as "forecasting tools" would imply that even something as small as measurement error in the estimation of parameters would make the models quite useless at forecasting effectively. So does that mean these models are useless? Of course not. These models may not be useful in prediction the numbers or the future precisely, but what they can do is give us a general view of how such kind of a complex system can shift depending on the shifts in the parameters and initial conditions.

So the idea of "global warming", while there is some evidence backing it, is largely not reliable because of the dynamics of the models being used. However, the term climate change is a completely different story. Although the idea of "global warming" being scientific is nonsensical and impossible (as I stated before), climate change is a very real threat to our very existence. Why do I say this?

3. Climate Change Is More Sound Than Global Warming:
Well, the risk underlying climate change is that there's man-made actions and other things human beings have done in the past few centuries since the beginning of industrialization that's created drastic, large-scale shifts in the earth's climate. For example, carbon dioxide emissions have spiked in the past few hundred years as has deforestation and a whole bunch of other human activities like extraction of fossil fuels and other minerals. Having these actions take place on a large-scale would certainly have some impact on the environment even though such impacts would be unclear.

We clearly have data linking the data of historical global temperatures to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We also have data linking certain other impacts of global weather shifts to some of the man-made events we've done going back several thousand years, especially local impacts of certain constructions or man-made activities creating future environmental shifts. So when we largely increase the scale of such activities while seeing an almost 30-40 fold increase in the total human population of the world with rapid industrialization concentrated in 200 years, you're bound to screw something up in the environment somewhere. And when we add in the nonlinear impacts of shifts in any dose or the sensitivity of the models we do have on the initial conditions or parameters, we're really setting ourselves up for a huge fall in the future.

In my view, we're clearly seeing global weather patterns shift significantly right now from man-made impacts of industrialization. Why do I say this? Because we're seeing shifting fruit cycles in certain years (like Indian mangoes this year) or shifting periods of monsoon winds and irregular weather across the entire globe. In other words, we're seeing sudden shifts in the volatility of climate patterns that we haven't seen on a global scale in at least about 10,000 years. In certain places, we're seeing consistently irregular weather that hasn't been common and isn't in line with the historical cycles embedded into their cultures or traditional calendars.

Of course, there's the counterargument by those who reject the idea of climate change who say that we can't know that it's man-made and that "the climate is always changing". Obviously, the climate and its weather patterns are always changing, but I'd also argue that we've seen human actions affect climate patterns in history before. For example, the climate patterns around Europe were definitely impacted by the actions taken by Rome including certain construction of infrastructure, deforestation, and other sorts of effects. Roman cities were known to have pollution and ash in the air, which is something that's rarely mentioned. All of those things over the course of hundreds of years will definitely have an impact on the climate. There was also a time when the Sahara desert was actually fertile and home to lots of human life. I'm of the view that it was certain human actions like exhausting certain water resources, various infrastructure that wasn't environmentally sound, and other factors of the sort which led to real problems.

We have clear scientific linkages between shifts in carbon dioxide levels and overall climate shifts in the earth's history. Does this mean a causation? Of course it doesn't, but that's not the question at hand. The question at hand is what are the potential costs vs the potential benefits. So the tradeoff is: we just keep doing what we're doing and risk a serious catastrophe from either extractive industries, emissions, future impacts on the environment via the costs of extraction or refinement of commodities and other natural resources, or other things of the kind. In other words, we have little to gain and a lot to lose.

More importantly, I've also discussed how economies that rely heavily on extractive industries can undergo serious problems. Obviously, environmental costs must clearly be a part of this discussion and there's plenty of good reasons which lead us to the conclusion that extractive industries are definitely related to various shifts in the earth's climate.

4. Security Risks and Geopolitical Impacts of Climate Change:
As I've stated above, the mathematical models involved in the observations of climate change aren't very accurate for forecasting, but they're very effective for determining various scenarios of the qualitative behaviors of the system. What we do know is that the models are highly sensitive to the initial conditions and the shifts in parameter values, but since the earth's climate is a complex system it probably has many of the same features. In other words, we're taking on a lot of risk for little gain.

My primary concerns about climate change have nothing to do with "scientific predictions" regarding sea level rise or a rise in mean temperatures. I'm much more concerned about shifts in the volatility of climate patterns? What do I mean? I mean shifting swaths of arable land that will create mass migrations. I'm much more concerned about shifting weather patterns like rainfall or wind patterns that could potentially devastate areas that haven't had too much rainfall with much more rainfall than expected while other areas that need rainfall don't meet their rainfall requirements. I'm concerned about how shifts in climate patterns affect trade routes and lines of supply across the globe.

Among the biggest risks from climate change that concerns me the most is how shifts in rainfall or wind patterns could affect bodies of water and the potential geopolitical impacts of such shifts. If that scenario is the case, we could be headed towards disaster.

The global security risks posed by climate change could result in large population corrections within the next 50 years. These population corrections could even be as large as 50-60% of the world's population. So we're talking about billions of lives at risk due to climate change. Other risks of climate change also come from rising sea levels where you have many coastal cities that could be at risk. Other factors that could change are viable ports or harbors and the locations of those ports or harbors.

There are many other possible risks and geopolitical impacts about climate change with the biggest factor being: WE DON'T ACTUALLY KNOW THE FULL IMPACT!!! All we know is that it's gonna screw something up somehow and the interconnectedness of our world makes the human species fragile because we've got little to gain and basically everything to lose.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Presidential Nomination Process (which isn't "rigged"),The Divides in the Republic, and Old American Political Wings Grappling for Power

This post will be about the current state of the political system and the various wings of American politics. This post is partly a response to a different post on a different blog, which I don't do often, but will also go further into the divisions in the Republic as demonstrated the Presidential race. This post will go through the prevalent political wings, the divides in the Republic, the Presidential nomination process, and through some American history as well.

One of my favorite blogs to frequent is a blog called China's Financial Markets written by the brilliant author Professor Michael Pettis. This post will be a response to his most recent post, where he discussed what he calls the Re-emergence of the Jacksonians. Professor Pettis, whose posts are generally error-free, makes quite a few errors in his most recent post. He says that Trump represents the Jacksonian wing of American politics, which is incorrect. He also made the claim that Trump would only last a few weeks and extended that a few weeks further given the attacks in Brussels which was after the writing of his post was finished. Prof. Pettis also makes the claim that Trump has convinced his supporters that he's one of them when he does no such thing. Trump has been very explicit in speaking about his privileges and the unfairness of them. Pettis also claims Trump is feeding off populist sentiment from who hate big-city bankers, but this is just flat out not true. Trump has done rather well in urban centers, including in New York. Trump has even praised banks in general, but has said that they need to be held accountable. Prof. Pettis is also mistaken when he says the original Tea Partiers or the Sons of Liberty were Jacksonians. They were not Jacksonians. They weren't saying no taxes or arguing for laissez-faire or anything of the kind. They were okay with taxation given that they had representation. There was no real anti-city sentiment with the Tea Partiers, especially considering many of them resided in large cities. Prof. Pettis is mistaken because it's Ted Cruz that represents the Jacksonian wing and not Donald Trump. Why do I say this? I say this because of the coalitions both candidates are utilizing and the support structure/organization of both candidates. I'll also go a bit deeper into the major candidates of both parties.

In both parties, you've got two major candidates fighting for the nomination of each party (John Kasich isn't a serious candidate who can win). The Democratic Party has Bernie Sanders vs Hillary Clinton and the GOP has Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. Each candidate represents a certain 'wing' of American politics that has risen and fallen throughout American history. The following candidates correspond to the following wings:
--Ted Cruz: Jacksonian Wing (or the 'Jacksonian Democrats' (ironically, they're now in the GOP)
--Donald Trump: Roosevelt Republican Wing (or the 'Old Yankee Republicans')
--Bernie Sanders: Jeffersonian Wing (or the 'Jeffersonian Democrats')
--Hillary Clinton:Wall Street Wing (or 'The Wall Street Coalition')

In order to demonstrate and prove my thesis, I first need to define what each "wing" of American politics is. From here, I must show how each person represents the wing they do. To show how each candidate is representative of each wing, we need to know the coalition that's backing them and the issues pertinent to those coalitions. To know the coalitions backing the candidates, we will first need to have a solid understanding of operational aspects of the political system in order to display how each wing is represented. Then, we need to understand how the operational aspects of the political system determine the winners. Then, we must understand how the way the winners arise determines the way in which the coalitions form.

Hence, this post will be separated into six sections:
1. Definitions/Descriptions of the Coalitions/Wings
2. How the Nomination Process Works in the Democratic Party and the GOP
3. The Current State of Affairs in the Democratic Party: The Wall Street Coalition or Jeffersonian Democrats
4. The Current State of Affairs in the Republican Party: Cruz Control or the Trump Card
5. The Issues of the Candidates and Divides in the Republic
6. The Wings Fighting for Power

1. Definitions/Descriptions of the Coalitions/Wings:
Before I get into the definitions/descriptions, let's keep in mind that these wings each has a long American history that goes back at least 100 years (usually longer). In reality, the Roosevelt Republicans could even be considered as the old

Jacksonian Wing--The Jacksonians are a group in American politics that've historically been located in the South and the Western parts, but it's important to note the Western parts were generally in the Mountain West although the Jacksonians do well in specific parts of the Industrial Midwest. They generally tend to be strong in the countrysides, amongst the industrial towns, and smaller cities.
Roosevelt Republicans--The 'Roosevelt Republicans' are "moderate" Republicans generally located in "Old Union Turf". They tend to be especially strong in the Mid-Atlantic and Industrial Midwest. They have strong support in both urban areas and in various small towns, albeit to a lesser degree as the Jacksonians in regions like the Industrial Midwest. I'd like to note that this wing goes back as far as a critical component of the old Whigs.
Wall Street Wing--This group is the wing in American politics that's generally strong during periods of high immigration, financial innovation, and financial liberalization. They tend to consist heavily of wealthy elites, especially related to the financial sector and banking in particular, while building strong ties with many minorities or immigrants. This coalition tends to be particularly strong in regions with high minority populations and is especially strong in large urban centers or cities. This wing has its roots in Alexander Hamilton and the old Federalists.
Jeffersonian Wing--The Jeffersonian Democrats generally tend to be heavily white or native. They usually consist of large amounts of agrarian populists along with those that become burdened by large amounts of inequality. Generally speaking, they usually represent those who are struggling to maintain their class level or status from society. In regions with lots of minorities, the Jeffersonian Wing consists almost entirely of whites and tend to be very anti-finance. This wing has its roots in the old Democratic-Republicans that go back to Jefferson.

Now that I've defined and described the various wings, we will now go through the rest.

2. How the Nomination Process Works in the Democratic Party and the GOP:
For those who don't know how the nomination process works, it's pretty simple: it's all about who breaks the threshold for delegates at the party conventions. The delegate threshold for the nomination is 50% of the total delegates plus one more. Each state has a certain amount of delegates. The rules are slightly different for the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

On the Democratic side, all of the popular delegates are distributed proportionally according to the portion of votes received by each candidate. These delegates become "pledged" to a candidate and are called pledged delegates. In addition to the popular delegates, you have super delegates that're basically party elites (like Senators, party bosses, etc.) who can support any candidate and switch their mind at any time before the convention. There's a total of 4,765 delegates in the Democratic side with 712 of those delegates being super delegates. The delegates that aren't super delegates are called "pledged delegates". The winner must get to a total of 2,383 delegates. The majority threshold in the pledged delegate count is 2,026 delegates.

On the GOP side, you have each state deciding how to apportion its delegates with some states having winner-take-all rules, others having winner-take-most (these are usually winner-take-all by district with each district having 1-3 delegates by state), others directly electing their delegates, and others having proportional representation of the vote. In the GOP case, once the voting is finished, the delegates in each state are "bound" do a candidate on the first ballot. If a candidate ever gets to 50%+1 of the total delegates, they get the nomination. If no one gets there on the first ballot, the convention is called a contested convention wherein more and more delegates slowly get "released" as the 2nd, 3rd, etc ballots take place. To win the Republican Party nomination without a contested convention requires the front-runner to have 1,237 delegates out of a total of 2473 delegates.

In both sides of the nomination process, 60-70% of the process is over. You have roughly 60 states+territories that vote with 15 left on the GOP side and 19 left on the Democratic side. After April that number will drop to 10  and 14 on the GOP and Democratic side, respectively.

3. The Current State of Affairs in the Democratic Party: The Wall Street Coalition or the Jeffersonian Democrats:
On the Democratic side, Clinton has ~1450 pledged delegates while Sanders has ~1200. She also currently leads Bernie by 2.5 million votes and ~225-275 pledge delegates. She's also consistently up in Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania (the next states to vote) by a polling average of ~10-15%. For Bernie to lead in pledged delegates at the end of the race, he'd need to win the remaining pledged delegates by a margin of ~19+%, which roughly translates into winning the remaining popular vote by ~20% from here on out.

Now keep in mind that each state can have either a primary or a caucus. In a primary, voters show up at the ballot box, put their vote, and then leave. In a caucus, you have a bunch of people in a room for hours involving yelling, screaming, and a certain procedure to determine who goes what way. In other words, caucuses actually disenfranchise voters. With that being said, the states that hold caucuses are: Washington state, Kansas, Utah, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, Wyoming, and North Dakota. All of those states have voted except for North Dakota with Bernie Sanders winning all of the caucus states except Iowa and Nevada. Not only did Bernie win those states, but he won most of those states by huge margins including up to 30-40% (including Alaska, Maine, Washington state, Hawaii, and Utah). In caucuses, Bernie has upped Clinton by ~150 delegates. In primary states, Clinton has beaten Bernie by ~400 delegates, and Hillary's up on Bernie by 2.7 million votes. What does this mean? It means that Bernie isn't even very competitive.
Note #1: Keep in mind that for the past month or so, Bernie has been burning through lots of cash while the Clinton campaign is basically spending no money right now. They think they've locked up the nomination, they're up ~10-15% in the polls in the Mid-Atlantic states and in California that have ~900 pledged delegates and 1000 total delegates up for grabs. Even if they break even or lose by 5%, Clinton will only need ~100 delegates in the remaining states to lead in pledged delegates and will have secured the advantage in super delegates to put this thing away. In other words, Bernie's chances are slim.

In the event of a close election where Bernie somehow miraculously ends up with a lead in pledged delegates, he'll still likely be down in votes. It's also important to note that out of the 712 super delegates, ~500 have declared their support for Hillary Clinton while Bernie has amassed ~40 super delegates thus far. So if the primary results end up with the unlikely result of Bernie having a lead of <150 pledged delegates, Clinton will still get the nomination. Keep in mind that Bernie hasn't even been in the Democratic Party for a few years. If I'm correct, this may be the first time Bernie Sanders is actually running as a Democrat. So the party elite will show little loyalty to him (since he hasn't been loyal to the Democratic Party either) and if it's close, they'll give the nomination to Hillary Clinton although the super delegates can change their mind in the run-up to the Democratic convention.

Now that I've described the direction of the Democratic race up until this point, we should look at the coalitions each candidate has relied upon to get to their current position. Hillary Clinton has won: Nevada, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, and New York.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has won: New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Michigan, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington state, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

If we look at the demographic split for each candidate, we'll see that Bernie has been defeating Hillary Clinton among whites, among males, and among the young. In fact, the entire Democratic nomination process has been remarkably predictable based on demographics. Bernie has won states with heavily white populations and he's crushed Clinton in heavily rural regions. Bernie's coalition consists of sections of the Midwest, the Mountain West, and the West Coast and relies heavily on white voters, males, and young voters located in heavily rural areas. Bernie's coalition is an age-old aspect of American history that's generally called the Jeffersonian Democrats or the old Agrarian Populists. Now, they're parading a new banner by the name of Democratic Socialism. Of course, the platform and policies are largely the same.

Clinton, on the other hand, has consistently won minorities (especially blacks and Latinos, but others as well) by ~30-40% varying upon the state. So we can clearly see how this election process has played out here. Thus far, Hillary Clinton's campaign has consisted of the South, parts of the Midwest, and the Southwest that's relied heavily on upper-middle class/wealthy whites combined with minority populations in states with large urban centers. Hillary Clinton's coalition is the same as the Obama coalition that was derived off Clinton's move to the right to win the 1992 election. Obama constructed a coalition of large money, primarily financial/Wall Street elites, that shares little difference with the old 'Gilded Age' coalition involving wealthy elites, upper-middle class/wealthy whites, and minorities that existed in the Republican Party roughly 120-150 years ago.
Note #2: The only state Sanders has beaten Clinton among minorities was Hawaii where he won by 40% with <14,000 votes. To put that in perspective, Clinton won Detroit by roughly three times the margin that Sanders won Hawaii even though she lost Michigan by ~2%. So until Sanders consistently shows the ability to win minority populations, I don't think he really has a chance to beat Clinton.

4. The Current State of Affairs in the Republican Party: Cruz Control or the Trump Card
Trump came out with a huge initial lead in delegates early on as the anti-Trump vote was split among many candidates. Now, it's basically Ted Cruz vs Donald Trump. Currently, Trump has ~845 delegates and Cruz has ~559 delegates with Marco Rubio having 171 delegates and John Kasich having ~150 delegates. It's also important to note that Marco Rubio has suspended his campaign, but Kasich's campaign is still operating.

It's funny because most pundits were saying that Cruz's strength would be among evangelicals, but it's Trump that has actually won evangelicals. Cruz has gotten a lot of support from local unions, a lot of old Reagan Democrats, working-class people, old conservatives, and pro-gun guys although he's lost evangelicals and old union supporters. That seems way more of a Jacksonian coalition than Trump's supporters in old union territory, "moderate" Republicans, Yankee Republicans, and support from old industry.  Cruz's coalition is scantly differentiable from Andrew Jackson's old coalition. In my estimation, the only reason that Cruz is less likely to win the general election is because now we have the West Coast in the Union.

Note that when most of the South voted, Marco Rubio was in still in the race. The exit polls also show that Rubio's supporters would've backed Ted Cruz over Donald Trump by what's roughly a 3:1 or 4:1 margin. In other words, the only reason Trump won most Southern states was because there were many people splitting the vote amongst the rest of the Republican Party. Even with those facts, Cruz lost Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky by margins of ~.2%, ~2.3%, ~3.4%, ~3.6%, and 4.3% with Rubio still in the race. Had Rubio suspended his campaign a few weeks earlier than he did, Cruz would've won all of those states and some by significant margins. In a head-to-head contest (or a contest where you just didn't have Rubio), Cruz's coalition would heavily consist of critical states in the South that wouldn't have gone to Trump. To put frankly: Cruz would've locked up the GOP nomination by now had Marco Rubio dropped out a few weeks earlier.
Note #3: Cruz also lost South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia by ~10%, ~14% and ~15% as Cruz and Rubio effectively split 45%, 46%, and 48% of the total vote in both states respectively. The vote went 32.5%/22.5%/22.3%, 38.4%/24.7%/21.2%. and 38.8%/24.4%/23.6% for Trump/Rubio/Cruz in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia (respectively). If Rubio wasn't a candidate during South Carolina or Tennessee or Georgia, Cruz would likely have taken South Carolina. There's a good chance he even takes Tennessee or Georgia although they would be less likely to be taken by Cruz than South Carolina.

Anyways, if we exclude the fact that a stupid decision made by a former Presidential candidate to stay in the race potentially sabotaged the candidate who's really organized by the grassroots, we'll see Cruz's actual coalition. Cruz has won the states of Iowa, Alaska, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Maine, Idaho, Utah, and Wisconsin. If we add in the states Cruz would have won had Rubio not been a complete moron, we'd have added--at the very least--Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Kentucky. Therefore, we see that Cruz's strength lies in the Mountain West, in Texas, and along many states in the South although Cruz didn't technically win those states due to unfortunate circumstances.
Note #4: Notice that there were other candidates in the race who took away Cruz's support early including people like Ben Carson. Although Carson endorsed Trump, most of his supporters probably went to support Cruz once his campaign was suspended in much the same way Rubio's supporters did.

Hence, we can definitively say that the Cruz coalition is built heavily on the Mountain West alongside states like Oklahoma and Texas. We can also definitively say that Cruz relies heavily on states with high rural populations or old industrial towns for his support, especially in sparsely populated states. Thus, Cruz's coalition and the strength of his campaign involves the old coalition of Andrew Jackson and the entire wing of the American system that's centered around the Mountain West, rural regions in the Midwest, and many of the Southern states. 
Note #5: Although Trump technically won most of the Southern states, I'll give Cruz the edge in many of those states simply because the dynamics of the voting process at that time was tilted against Cruz.

We can also definitively say that Trump's wing relies on a completely different set of states involving a coalition of the Mid-Atlantic, New England, the Midwest and specific parts of the South. Trump relies on many states that have large urban population centers and probably relies on large urban populations among his voters. The rise of Trump isn't related to the rise of the Jacksonians, but instead it's related to the return of the Yankee/Midwestern Republicans including the likes of Rudy Guliani and Chris Christie who've both endorsed Trump.
Note #6: Notice that Trump is up big in the polls in the Mid-Atlantic which has yet to vote. Considering that there's no way Cruz or Kasich could even dream of catching up in the Mid-Atlantic, I'll give Trump every single one of the Mid-Atlantic states in a landslide.

5. The Issues of the Candidates and Divides in the Republic:
As we can see, there's clear divides inside each party and there's serious divides in the critical issues that're being addressed by each campaign. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has made an entire campaign about "inequality"--by which he advocates equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity--and a populist appeal against the big city interests, high finance, and Wall Street. He's also pushing for strong centralized social supports like "tuition-free college", single-payer health care, high taxation, and high levels of redistribution while largely being against gun control (most of the anti-gun rhetoric from Bernie is nonsense as his record will tell you the truth). Bernie Sanders is also crying out against military spending.

In the case of Hillary Clinton, she's running an entire campaign to build off what Obama has done. She's arguing for some more social supports, but she's clearly drawn the line by saying that college shouldn't be tuition-free, she's arguing against single-payer, she's not advocating a large increase in taxation, and she's using Wall Street/high finance to support her campaign and hold her coalition together.

On the GOP side, you've got Trump that's campaigning on issues like universal health insurance, infrastructure spending, holding a line against illegal immigration, and cracking down on foreign freeloaders. You've also got Cruz--and while his campaign is mostly filled with blatant lies--his supporters know his record on government spending/expansion, religious liberty, and preventing immigration reform regarding illegal immigrants.

So as we can see, there's clear differences within each party on how critical issues should be resolved. However, it's also important to note that much of what Trump is advocating for are ideas that're considered "liberal" or closer to the "left-wing" of American politics while combined with anti-illegal immigrant and anti-foreign government sentiment. Cruz, on the other hand, lies as much as necessary to get power so that he can basically prevent government spending or reform across a broad range of issues. Cruz is also a vehement defender of state's rights while Trump fundamentally wants to expand federal power.

From this, we can conclude that the divides in the Republic are largely regional. In the Democratic Party, there's a demographic split by race, by gender, and by age. In the GOP, the divides are entirely regional. Both Cruz and Trump have won various combinations of old industrial areas that has resulted in Trump beating Cruz in some while Cruz gets the better of Trump in others. However, Trump has done better in regions close to the Mexican border and in cities. Cruz has also done better with women, but that's about as far as the demographic divides go, except maybe for income but the income based demographics aren't entirely consistent across states.

So we can conclude that there's crucial divides in both the Democratic Party and the GOP that're regional, but the divides in the Democratic Party go beyond regional divides and goes out into racial, gender, and age-based divides although those divides seem to be largely regional as well. In the Republican Party, the regional divides only apply to gender because Cruz has won Republican and conservative women.

6. The Wings Fighting for Power:
As I've described, we've seen huge divides not just across party lines but within the parties as well. In the Democratic Party, there are two key factions fighting for power. The first faction is what I've called The Wall Street Coalition; it's also known as the Obama Coalition. It's very similar to the Republican Party that used a combination of wealthy, big-city elites (particularly financial elites) to unite upper-middle class/wealthy whites with minorities and immigrants. This faction is represented by Hillary Clinton. It was also created by Barack Obama and has its roots in Bill Clinton moving the Democratic Party to the right in the 90's. The 'Wall Street Coalition' generally tends to be concerned with issues regarding minority rights, they tend to be pro-immigration, they tend to favor liberal finance or financial innovation, and are heavily concerned with issues regarding economic development via market-based institutions. This is basically Hillary Clinton's platform

The other faction in the Democratic Party is the old Jeffersonian Democrats. It's effectively a combination of agrarian populists that're largely white combined with younger voters who tend to be students that are ideological and naive. The policies, the platform, and the viewpoints of this wing that's represented by Bernie Sanders has its roots in Thomas Jefferson. These "democratic socialists" are nothing more than a rebranded version of the old Jeffersonian Democrats. The Jeffersonian Democrats have always primarily been concerned with issues regarding inequality, banking/finance, excess political power in the hands of elites, and the centralization of the government purely in the hands of the financial system alongside other capitalist elites. They also rail against large military spending, are almost always in favor of sharply reducing military spending, and tend towards pacifism. I just described the policy platform of Bernie Sanders.
Note #7: Most people think that Thomas Jefferson was against a strong central government, but this is not true. Jefferson felt that the central government should operate in an actually democratic way regarding the "will of the people" and in accordance to their desires. Jefferson was against the strong centralized government pushed by Alexander Hamilton via control of the financial system.

In the Republican Party, you've got Trump that's heavily reliant on a coalition of New England and the Mid-Atlantic alongside pieces of both the Midwest and the South. This wing is what I like to call the Yankee Republicans of the 20th century, but the history of this faction predates the 20th century. Prof. Pettis calls this wing the Jacksonians, but they're not like Andrew Jackson or the wing that Andrew Jackson drew his support from at all. No one can claim to be a Jacksonian when you crush your opponent in New York while getting annihilated in Texas. The Roosevelt Republicans tend to be rather moderate on almost all issues. They favor government involvement in health insurance or in other specific regions while being against "free trade". They favor moderate social supports combined with strong international intervention for the US atop the "World Order". They tend to be okay with some levels of redistribution. This is basically the entire point of Donald Trump's campaign.

With regards to Ted Cruz, his coalition is heavily reliant on the Mountain West, parts of the South or Midwest, and will probably include many parts of the West Coast. In other words, the coalition backing Ted Cruz are the actual Jacksonians. The Jacksonian heavily Southern or Western (like Jackson himself), but struggle to gain support in Yankee territory. They tend to be led by the kinds of people who're intelligent while coming off off as idiots to much of their opposition, they understand politics, they lie through their teeth while being relentlessly in service to those who elected them, and they're staunchly anti-corruption. The Jacksonians tend to favor laissez-faire economics with grassroots democracy and "sound money". They fight against what they perceive to be the institutionalization of power which means favoring things like term limits. They also tend to vehemently be in favor of states rights along with the rights of their local communities, which is why they're staunchly pro-gun, as opposed to the big cities. They also tend to be more imperial while generally leaning to isolationism, are staunchly anti-internationalist, and are ruthless in securing what they perceive to be American interests at almost any cost. This is a lot like Ted Cruz.
Note #8: In his post, Prof. Pettis said that the Jacksonians used to favor a stronger Presidency back in the time of Jackson, which is correct. However, they also favored states rights' on most occasions which is one of the arguments Jackson used to destroy the Bank of the United States. I'd argue that they favored a stronger executive in order to effectively protect what they felt to be an encroachment of the rights of their states/localities by established elites from DC. Sure enough, this is Ted Cruz's rhetoric if you pay close attention to it.

Note #9: The Jacksonians are very good at political mobilization at the grassroots level, which is really Ted Cruz's only path to the Republican nomination considering that he won't be able to get enough delegates to catch Trump, but while noting that most of the delegates at the convention will be Cruz guys that were promoted through the grassroots in the GOP. Any time you've got a person who was actively engaged in bringing the party leadership down from the inside that's forced the entire party leadership to throw their support to the guy that tried to unseat them: the grassroots movement that allows for such political maneuvering are the Jacksonians.

Extra Bonus: Nomination Process is not Rigged
Now that I've described the nomination process, let me attack this idea that the nomination process is "rigged". Outside of the stupid claims of voter suppression as being anti-Bernie by Bernie Sanders supporters (when all of the evidence shows that all of the voter disenfranchisement/suppression issues occurred in regions with such a history and that such disenfranchisement/suppression also occurred in particular regions that favored Hillary Clinton both demographically and in the polls while all of the "evidence" used by Bernie supporters for such a bias is largely anecdotal), both Bernie and Trump have been saying the system is "rigged".

The system is not rigged in any way. The rules have been known and unchanged for basically a year--much longer in some cases. The Democratic contest doesn't mean the elites select the candidate, but that they have a say in splitting the vote if it's close. The contest also rewards party loyalty, which makes sense. On the Republican side, everything is done by states where all states have a highly democratic process. If we look at Trump's claim that the process is rigged against him, we'd actually see that such claims are simply not true.

From a pure results-based standpoint, it's not like Bernie Sanders has been competitive enough for the entire thing to matter anyways. Even if Bernie somehow pulls off the unlikely win in pledged delegates, he'd still be losing in votes and winning due to his performance in caucuses which'd tell us that he's actually winning because of rules that disenfranchise many voters.